Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal once served Wrightsville

This peaceful park-like scene along the Susquehanna River in Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, during the Civil War was a bustling industrial section, filled with lumberyards and light industry, warehouses, and support facilities for the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal.

The canal, constructed from 1836-1840 at a cost of $3.5 million, ran from Wrightsville southward 43 miles to Havre de Grace, Maryland. Thirty miles were in the Keystone State and the final thirteen were in Maryland. A fleet of mule-drawn wooden canal boats carried coal, lime, lumber, and other products to awaiting customers throughout the 19th century, although the railroads starting in 1855 began cutting into (and eventually displacing) the canal business.

Traces of the old canal remain at Wrightsville. Downstream near the Norman Wood Bridge are remnants of Lock #12, one of 29 locks which once enabled the canal boats to traverse the 231-foot change in elevation.

Here are a few photos of the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal today at its northern terminus at Wrightsville.

This old photo shows what the general area once looked like. The area to the right is now a wooded park. The old canal operator’s house shown on the lower left is gone, but remnants of the foundation still exist.

Remnants of the old canal keeper’s house shown in the earlier photo of the wayside marker.

Old canal boat lantern -- photographed at the Historic Wrightsville Museum on Locust Street

Relics from the Civil War skirmish at Wrightsville include Minie balls, Confederate money, a bayonet, and a solid shot.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, Confederate Brigadier General John B. Gordon’s soldiers from Georgia formed a bucket brigade on the evening of June 26, 1863, to help fight several riverfront fires in the industrial section of Wrightsville. Flaming embers from the burning Columbia Bridge, set afire by retreating Pennsylvania state militia following the Skirmish of Wrightsville, had ignited warehouses and lumberyards along the canal. The Georgians dipped buckets and pitchers into the canal and passed them westward to combat the spread of the inferno.


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5 Responses to Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal once served Wrightsville

  1. michael mcadams says:

    Has there been any documentation of canal remains near Shanks Ferry / Otter creek along the York county side of the river? I recall seeing what looked like brick “docks” or side “canal” areas along the riverbank years ago along that section as you got closer to Holteood dam.

  2. Dr. Elizabeth Shaw says:

    There is available a real wealth of information on remains of the canal.

    Your best bet is to get in touch w/ Dr. Hollie Bedell of the Lower Windsor Area Historical Society.

    You can reach her at: or at 246-8735

  3. Melissa Hake Fitzkee says:

    As a kid growing up on Front Street in Wrightsville, the Canals were a wonderful accent to the water front. In the summer it was a place for kids to catch all manner of critters, snapping turtles, frogs, catfish, crawdads, and crappies. In the winter when the risen banks froze it became a winter wonderland. The canal froze before the river and as there was no current, it did so in a nice slick sheet perfect for skating. The trees overhead held back the snow and gave a little shelter, it was a beautiful site. We used to build bonfires and someone always snuck a pack of hot dogs or a jug of hot cocoa to aid in keeping warm. After Christmas it was the place to go to get rid of your old tree. With parental supervision, we would have huge bonfires where we could warm ourselves. It was fantastic. Too bad “progress” has taken this from the kids of Wrightsville.

  4. Gary McGinnis says:

    Scott excellent set of articles on the Canals. Who charged for using the bridge? One of the canal companies or the bridge. I would have loved to have seen a bridge carrying barges. That had to be quite a site.

    I don’t know anything about this particular canal but the barges used on the C&O Canal averaged approximately 100 tons loaded. That means they displaced 100 tons of water. Even in 18356 1that’s an impressive amount of weight to handle especially if its moving.

    Thanks for the information.

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